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Med School Recommendation Letters: What Should They Say?


All graduate and professional schools require applicants to submit recommendation letters written by faculty and other professionals who are able to critically and impartially evaluate the applicant. Medical schools often refer to these as letters of evaluation.

Why are Letters of Evaluation Important?
Medical schools receive a great deal of information about applicants. The AMCAS application includes MCAT scores, lists of courses taken and grades obtained, personal statements, and more. Recommendation letters, known as evaluation letters, fill in the gaps.

Evaluation letters provide faculty perspectives on your abilities, potential, and character. The medical profession requires more than academic and clinical competence - it requires a sense of ethics and integrity. A helpful letter of evaluation provides insight into your personal qualities. An effective recommendation letter comments on the following:

Cognitive Readiness: Is the applicant ready for medical school? Does the applicant have the intellectual capacity for med school? Does he or she have the critical thinking, abstract reasoning, problem solving, and communication skills to succeed in the medical profession?

Motivation: Is the applicant motivated for a career in medicine? How has he or she demonstrated interest? What formal or informal opportunities has the applicant sought

Maturity: All the intellect in the world cannot make up for immaturity. Is the applicant emotionally mature? Can he or she handle responsibility? Can he or she discuss sensitive topics professionally, demonstrate respect for others, and maintain confidentiality?

Academic Rigor: An effective letter provides a context for the students' performance. It places the students' grades in perspective given his or her coursework. For example, how demanding is the student's major and set of courses?

Integrity: Is the applicant ethical? Honest? Does he or she demonstrate mature moral reasoning?

One thing should be apparent: Faculty must know you outside of class in order to write a recommendation letter that will aid your application.

Cultivate Relationships with Professors
When a faculty writes a letter on your behalf he or she is providing an honest evaluation of your match to the medical profession. In essence that faculty member is vouching for you and putting his or her reputation behind you. You must establish a good relationship with a faculty member in order for him or her to feel comfortable writing a recommendation on your behalf.

How do you get to know to professors - and let them get to know you? It's not that hard because professors are people too. Simply show genuine interest. Ask questions in class, talk with them during office hours, and/or ask them about their research. If you like a professor and his or her field of study, take additional courses. Positive contact with faculty will help them get to know you. Apart from obtaining helpful letters,discussions with faculty will help your own growth as student and professional.

Obtain Multiple Letters of Evaluation
If you intend to apply to medical school you must think ahead and establish relationships with professors. Moreover, remember that you will need a minimum of three letters of recommendation. At least two letters should be from science professors. A third letter might come from faculty who have supervised you in a clinical experience or faculty who teach liberal arts courses that emphasize critical thinking and logic. Regardless, those who write your letters s must be able to describe your academic competences and personal qualities. Most importantly the faculty who write your letters must know you well enough to be able to provide details an examples to support each of their statements.

Nuts and Bolts of Obtaining Letters
Institutions and departments have differing policies regarding providing evaluation letters to students to are applying to medical school. Some provide an official department statement evaluating your competence. Others provide a summary of the faculty letters. Others provide no gross evaluation or summary. Instead applicants submit individual faculty letters, similar to those for applications for graduate studly.

Regardless of the departmental or institutional policy, you must give each faculty member who writes on your behalf a detailed statement and packet of information in order to help them write an effective letter.

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